What to do if an “effective” manager appears in your team?
A couple of years ago, friends threw off a very funny comic called "Owl - an effective manager." I laughed, thought that it’s funny, it doesn’t happen the same way the situations are exaggerated. But very soon this comic became my reality - he appeared in our team: an “effective” manager, and it was no laughing matter.
So, from this moment, the call for the product/project manager and team begins. In the course of this story, all parties suffered huge losses: the investor, the product, and the team. But the main thing is that there is a way out of such situations, and the scale of the disaster can be localized and reduced.
Given: the product team of remote workers with an hourly rate, built-up and well-developed processes has been working on the MVP of a mobile application in the field of geo-dating for the fifth month. The work moves according to plan, in accordance with the agreed requirements, with weekly demo shows without critical time lags. The team is strong, all the guys from the top IT companies. The investor coordinator, not a technical person, helps us in administrative affairs and communication with the investor. I act as a project/product manager, I am responsible for the implementation of the product, its quality and compliance with the expectations of the investor. It would seem that everything is more or less perfect, in a month there should be the first public release.
Introductory: the investor, having talked with friends “from the IT world”, hears the following thesis: “Your team extort money from you. Yes, your application could be released in 3 months for the same money. Let me show you how to do it! I will bring them to clean water! ”.
Result: a person comes to us who has been engaged in automating business processes of a glass company based on the 1C platform for 10 years, to audit our work and implement efficiency in team processes. I must say that not one, but taking with him an Agile coach and a “technical” specialist from his environment.
As a result, instead of a month before the MVP release, the introduction of “effective” managers cost the company half the product team, extended the product launch time by another six months, and increased the monthly expenses by exactly 2 times!
Now let's see how to release a product and work with “effective” managers, because you can’t argue against investor’s friends.
Step 1. Peace of mind
If you are in this situation, the first thing to do is to stop getting nervous as soon as possible.
This is very difficult. You understand the absurdity of the situation, your team understands the absurdity of the situation, even the coordinator on the part of the investor realizes that something strange is starting, based on common sense.
Letting go of emotions, remember that this is just a job and we don’t need a heart attack at the age of 30.
After a year, I can give such advice. But at that time, both I and the team were very painful in the process of introducing “effective” managers, up to nervous breakdowns. I remember it was a sunny Saturday summer day, I met with our investor coordinator about minor administrative issues, and at the end of the meeting she said a very correct phrase, which I try not to forget anymore: “I see how everyone worries about the fate of the product and its success, A lot of work has already been done, but don’t take everything so close to heart, there are many fools, and there are only a few specialists. ” Now we can go to step 2.
Step 2. Acceptance
Resign yourself to the fact that a person, especially an influential person, trusts connections and friends more than hired workers. If you have not managed to establish friendly relations with the investor during your work, of course. But that would be a completely different story.
Accordingly, the maximum that you can, as the person responsible for the product, is to accurately say that the new manager is a very qualified person, but not in the profile of the product you are working on. You can also describe some of the risks that may arise associated with the release of the product after the arrival of a new "leader".
However, the first healthy reaction is to “open your eyes” to the investor and begin to prove that this is the wrong decision.Just this behavior will be a mistake, because a harsh protest in the eyes of the investor will only confirm the opinion that you are hiding something and, possibly, deceiving it. So a couple of technically strong guys left us who chose attack tactics. Remember that very few people can take harsh criticism constructively.
Step 3. Preservation of the integrity of the team and protection from destructive impact
Naturally, everything that happens will affect the team’s morale, motivation and productivity will drop. The team will express sincere perplexity about what is happening.
The following is bad advice, but it works. Organize a platform where people can speak out, “bomb” on the grudge of the day, throw out emotional stress without risking to offend the leadership and lose their jobs. Thus, you will not need to act as a personal psychologist for each member of the team, because, first of all, they will complain about everything to you, and a general discussion will provide mutual support and understanding. Even absolutely fierce situations in such a discussion develop into humor and end on a positive note, which gives moral strength to the team to experience new absurd surprises.
It is very useful in case of chaos that has come from outside, to keep the team understanding of the work plan and vision of goals. Here you, as a product/project manager, take a complete blow at yourself. The whole storm that begins to unfold around the activity of the “effective” manager must pass through you and be transmitted to the team in the form of a clear process or tasks with a mandatory explanation of why this is being done. More on this later.
Step 4. Ensuring maximum openness and friendliness to new arrivals
As I mentioned in step 2, there is no point in confronting the situation, it has already happened. Everything has already been decided. Your task is to reduce losses and squeeze the maximum benefit.
New “executives” want an audit? Ok, we're going to a general meeting. We show all the resources, talk about all the technologies, how the infrastructure is arranged, how the services work, by what methodologies we work, how the processes are built up to drag and drop tasks in the task tracker; show backlog and describe how to work with it. It will be a long and exhausting event, sometimes it will seem a little humiliating, but it is worth going through it.
First of all, you will present the team as professionals in your field and deserve the respect of “effective” managers. Secondly, such a move brings the team together, you act as a united front, and this increases confidence between team members. But you need to thoroughly prepare for the meeting. You need to understand that the technical part will be “protected” by those lead and leading developers, but the product/project manager will be blown away for all processes, metrics and deadlines. Be prepared to recall the theory and explain why the process goes on exactly like this in your team, and not according to the “training manual.”
We had such a session took 3 hours. All documentation was turned over, all metrics were checked, each function of the application was reviewed. At the end of the meeting, our new “leaders” did not know what to complain about and admitted that all work was being done at the proper level (although they didn’t even understand many words in the explanations), but said that they could strengthen our team and make the product even more beautiful.
Step 5. Confirmation of responsibilities
This is a key point in the future that you can operate on and influence the situation.
Immediately after the audit, when you have earned credibility and made it clear that further work will be done on an equal footing, you need to determine the area of responsibility and responsibilities of new arrivals.
Well, you “managers” want to strengthen the team, let's decide what you can do for the good of the product. It is advisable to bring this out in an open conversation, ideally so that an investor is present at it, but in our case a trustee in the form of a coordinator was enough.
We begin to ask uncomfortable questions on the forehead: what exactly will you, “Ivan”, do, on what issues can I contact you? The first answer we heard was: “Solve all issues.” It is not worth specifying that such an answer does not fit, but is already quite indicative.It is necessary to show obstinacy and perseverance, since the appearance of new people in the team is your area of responsibility.
Explain that the team has built the principles of openness and transparency, including to the investor, and you can’t allow such a chaos, because at the moment all functions are closed by current staff, and they get paid for it. Duplicating someone’s responsibilities or solving something that doesn’t exist is a waste of money in relation to the investor, and you should not do so. By the way, business owners and investors really appreciate when they care about their resources and try to listen to such moments.
In our case, “effective” managers took the time to think so as not to lose face in front of the employer.
Step 6. Integration into processes
When it was possible to outline the terms of reference, or at least the areas of responsibility, agree to work on common standards. Do not make an exception for them, because this gives you the right to consider yourself elected and establish their own rules. If the whole team sets tasks through the task tracker, then they too. If the team reports on the work done, then so are they. We are all moving towards one goal, and maybe not you anymore, but I can help you with any question.
This works especially well with “theorists” who went to some training or certification and know exactly how to do it according to the training manual, and if something is not right there, then it’s wrong.
So with us the main initiator took over some of the administrative issues and the tasks of expanding the team, since he is now responsible to the investor for the “efficiency” of the work. The Agile coach showed prudence and said that he had nothing special to do in the team, but he was ready to attend meetings and give advice on how best to build a job. And the “technical specialist”, as he was silent, continued to be silent, but the new leader instructed him to be responsible for “security.”
Step 7. Determining the channel of influence
Try to probe who the investor is really listening to and who really has influence. Yes, new arrivals really have a margin of trust in friendship or past merits. But who works with the investor shoulder to shoulder?
In our case, it was a coordinator. She led not only our direction, but also the main business of the investor. Yes, the person is not technical, but everyone has common sense. Describe in an accessible way all the risks associated with the decisions made. Do not be silent, do not wait until the powder keg explodes. Your comments will be ignored, they will be dismissed from them, but if they are stated in writing, one way or another, they will be put aside in the head of a person who wants the project to succeed.
Step 8. Transition to collaboration
When people incompetent in your field try to influence a product, including the technical part, the most acute pain arises.
It's no secret that the entire infrastructure is registered for certain accounts and their change is often very dreary. For large companies, the obvious thing will now sound, and small businesses very often sin. Never, please, never register anything on the private accounts of employees. Only for the company or, maximum, for the founder. Some of us were registered at LLC, some at team lead. And, of course, the first thing that an effective leader decided to do was re-register everything to himself. No comment. Argumentation - so I can make payments on time and control all accesses. We remember that the investor has complete confidence in this person, and the team is still deceivers.
Here we were waiting for the first losses from the team: people who did not want to participate in this "circus" left. They can be understood. But the problem was that all the back-end developers were gone. And they were fired one day for showing disrespect for the new leader, as I wrote above.
Thus, we are left with minimal documentation on infrastructure and without transferred cases. Effective, isn't it?
I with the rest of the team identified tasks that can be done without a back-end’a. Fortunately, they overtook the client part for the tasks being solved.
“Effective” manager claims to find leading replacement specialists.But everyone understands that without them no release in the products this month will take place. Dates begin to fly away.
The next step is to introduce hourly reports. I calculate the economic efficiency of this decision, how much the team will spend on filling out such reports, since everyone has an hourly rate, and how much additional costs will come out monthly for the investor. Are you happy with everyone? OK.
This has its advantages, we can justify every hour, and just like that, no one will cut back the salary with the argument: "It seems to me that this should have taken less time, so I do not confirm a quarter of the salary." Such phrases have sounded more than once from the “effective” manager, but they never got to the point. Thanks for that too.
I took upon myself this work. It’s good that everything is done in the task tracker and it was not difficult to set up report uploading. Prior to that, we simply did not waste team time on reporting, as the task tracker is available to everyone, and information on the work done can be found at any time.
Here, “effective” managers shot themselves in the kneecap for the first time. In step 6, we found that everyone is equal before the processes. Accordingly, if a team must submit detailed reports on its activities, then they too. Then came the realization that we would not be able to sit out on a fixed salary without doing anything.
Thus, tasks are set for new arrivals in the task tracker, there are no results, reports are unloaded with zeros. This is seen by the coordinator. What parry comes to: “We will submit our reports and prepare them separately.” Well, we are working further.
A month and a half passes, the "leadership" imitates an active search for employees, but the new developers never come to the team. Tasks end, development is about to pause.
As they say, the salvation of drowning people is the work of the drowning people themselves. As a result, a team of acquaintances finds strong specialists who are able to understand the infrastructure, and in the worst case, restore it from scratch. They do us a favor and take them to work. But the hiring tasks are closed, the “effective” managers are great!
I’ll write about the fact that all these months I’ve been writing reports on the work done and plans for further development, and the “leader” assigns them to myself, I won’t. This is a classic. In this case, do not be too lazy to phone with the “leader” and explain what each line of the report means so that a person can correctly present it - otherwise you will be raking it later. A good bell is that you need to do this if you hear at one of the meetings the phrase: “I don’t have to understand this, I have to lead.” Exhaled, drove on.
Step 9. Work on the product
Once you understand that the influence of “effective managers” comes to the concept of the product and its development strategy, immediately find out if these actions are approved by the investor. It is advisable, in writing, to refer to something.
So, when the team’s resources were replenished, the attention of “effective” managers immediately switched to the product. Demands poured that it was necessary to refine this and this and this, and many, many more functions. If on your argument that the proposed hypotheses require verification, you hear: “this is obvious and approved by the investor,” then calmly supplement the backlog. But if possible, it is better to check with the investor through another channel whether the changes are approved. Unfortunately, we did not have such an opportunity, the coordinator went on a long business trip, and could no longer devote time to our direction. We can say that this is how we were left with the “effective” managers one on one. And this imaginary “evidence and consistency” of requirements, in conjunction with ignorance of product processes, turned out to be fatal and became the beginning of the end for the career of “leadership” in our company.
Of course, you, as a product manager, cannot take all the tasks that come “from above”, otherwise you can lose the product development vector and its value. There is a way out, but not perfect: we take the most valuable tasks from the backlog and some of the imposed ones in the sprint.Most likely, you will still have to fight for the implementation of useful functions, but this is your main responsibility.
Step 10. Summary
For about two months, the investor and coordinator could not devote time to the product, because they were engaged in the main business. The team was divorced from direct contact, but the “effective” managers assured that they constantly keep in touch with them and coordinate all changes.
During this time, we managed to restore the entire application infrastructure and organize monitoring and support. Gradually, they began to implement “coordinated” functions. Even the classic process has been adjusted: “Do you want to lead? Set the task and priority, and we will decide how to do it. ” We set up regulations for calls and discussions. At the beginning of our acquaintance, the meeting could be delayed for four hours, and no facilitation methods helped to reduce this time, because everyone should know the flow of consciousness of their “leader." All have more or less adapted, and the team’s state from critical has transformed into “and so it will do.”
Here comes day X, when the coordinator returns, and the investor requests a display of the results of work and reports.
What was the surprise of the investor when, after six months of work, he saw much less than he expected, in his vector of development and saw something he didn’t even know about. Although, I must say that the team during this time managed to implement a number of useful improvements for the product, which we were able to protect from “effective” managers, and then explain the value to the investor.
At the same time, the activities of the team throughout the entire period remained transparent, except for the activities of “effective” managers, which clearly did not draw on the stated volumes.
At this point, “effective” managers are fired one day and the long process of transferring access to all resources that were reissued in the previous steps begins.
The team finally sighs with relief and restores its activities.
Based on all the stages I went through, I concluded that no friendship, political games, information speculation, or other dirty moves could defeat openness, transparency, and controllability of processes.
And, of course, honesty before the team, honesty before the investor are key points in building a workflow.
There are no hopeless situations; there are thorny paths that have to be traversed.
Finally, a number of psychological life hacks that can help preserve the nerves when working with an “effective” manager:
- Keep your friendliness, at the moment they are also part of the team.
- Present and bring “leaders” to the right decisions, as if it were their ideas. Show that they are needed and make a valuable contribution to product development.
- Tell us about the achievements, results of work and plans for the next stage. Create the appearance that “effective” managers fully control the development process and, if desired, can influence it.
- Build a channel of communication with “effective” managers - give the information that they want to receive, without harm to the main processes.
- Leave the internal development process and technical implementation in the team’s area of responsibility - solve all arising issues within the team and work as you worked before.
I don’t wish anyone to experience such an experience, but I hope that this article will help someone out of a difficult situation..